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Since the opening and reform period began in 1978, China has become a destination for skilled migrants, conventionally labelled “expatriates.” This migration has focused on a few coastal cities, notably Shanghai, usually regarded China’s primary global city. Based on over 400 interviews and 20 years of ethnographic fieldwork in Shanghai, this book analyzes the development of Shanghai’s expatriate communities, from their role in the opening up of Shanghai to foreign investment in the early 1980s through to the explosive growth after China joined the World Trade Organization in 2000. It explains the lifestyles of these skilled migrants; their positions in economic, social, sexual and cultural fields; their strategies for integration into Chinese society; their contributions to a cosmopolitan urban geography; and their changing symbolic and social significance for Shanghai as a global city. In so doing, it seeks to deal with the following questions: how have a generation of migrants made Shanghai into a cosmopolitan hometown, what role have they played in making Shanghai a global city, and how do foreign residents now fit into the nationalistic narrative of the China Dream? The answer for potential migrants is cautionary. In short, finding a place in China is difficult for most migrants. China’s migration policies have worked well for China, but not necessarily as well for migrants and their families.
James Farrer is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Graduate School of Global Studies at Sophia University in Tokyo. His research focuses on the contact zones of global cities, including ethnographic studies of sexuality, nightlife, expatriate communities, and urban food cultures. His recent books include International Migrants in China’s Global City: The New Shanghailanders; Shanghai Nightscapes: A Nocturnal Biography of a Global City (with Andrew Field); and Globalization and Asian Cuisines: Transnational Networks and Contact Zones (editor).